Champions League: Arsenal comes through; Leverkusen-Roma thriller
Another dramatic round of Champions League action was headlined with Arsenal beating Bayern Munich 2-0 in a must-have game, while Neymar continued his fine form in the absence of Lionel Messi for Barcelona in a 2-0 win over BATE Borisov. An eight-goal thriller between Bayer Leverkusen and Roma lit up Group E, there was frustration for Chelsea vs. Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine and Andre Villas-Boas's Zenit Saint Petersburg has won three out of three games in Group H.
Here is what caught our eye on a crazy European night:
Player of the Day: Neymar (Barcelona)
He scored four goals at the weekend, and though Neymar ended his night in Belarus without adding to his tally, he once again played the key role in Barcelona's win over BATE Borisov. The reigning champion knocked on the BATE door in the first half but needed to wait until two minutes after halftime before it made the breakthrough. Neymar jinked past three markers to square the ball to sub Ivan Rakitic, who smashed his shot from the edge of the area into the roof of the net.
The Croatian's second goal was even better, again coming courtesy of some magic from Neymar, who slalomed into the opposition's area and weighted his pass to perfection for Rakitic to chip the ball into the net.
Neymar has stepped into the breach left by the injured Messi, and it will be interesting to see how he responds once the Argentine returns. His last two performances will certainly have shown the Barcelona socios that there is life beyond Messi.
Goal of the Day: Hulk (Zenit Saint Petersburg)
Nothing looked on when Hulk shoved Maxime Gonalons off the ball to win possession on the halfway line, so the mighty Brazilian just headed for goal. He made his way past a half-hearted challenge from Alexandre Lacazette and with no one near him 35 yards from goal, he let fly. The ball swerved away from Anthony Lopes and into the bottom corner. It was a master-blast from the mighty Hulk, his third goal in the competition.
Honorable mention also to commentator's nightmare Thomas Foket, the Gent wingback whose left-footed howitzer flew into the roof of the Valencia goal for a brilliant equalizer at the Mestalla (though Valencia went on to win 2-1). Even Gent coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck, whose side has had to come from behind in all three games so far, could hardly believe his eyes. Kevin Kampl (Leverkusen) and Rakitic (Barcelona) also had fantastic strikes.
Eye-Opening Result of the Day: Bayer Leverkusen 4, Roma 4
Roma conceded three goals in the first 30 minutes of its last away game, at BATE Borisov, and it endured another bad start on the road at Leverkusen, as Javier Hernandez put the German host two goals up after 19 minutes. Roma's last away win in the competition was five years ago against FC Basel and the Italian side had not won its last seven ties. No wonder coach Rudi Garcia's Champions League record of three wins in 20 games was under scrutiny.
But in an astonishing game, Roma pulled even after being 2-0 down, thanks to two Daniele de Rossi goals from Miralem Pjanic set pieces. Pjanic is proving himself an able successor to Andrea Pirlo's free-kick crown in Serie A and scored with a sumptuous swerving strike just after halftime, his fourth goal in six free-kick efforts this season.
Substitute Iago Falque added a fourth and it looked like Garcia's miserable run was over. Not quite: Admir Mehmedi and Kevin Kampl scored late on to make it 4-4 and Hernandez, who missed a chance for his hat trick in the first half, saw a late shot curl inches wide.
It was a crazy game, end-to-end and unpredictable. No side deserved to lose but given its current European slump, Roma will feel it dropped two points.
Turning Point of the Day: Neuer proves he's human after all
Arsenal's win over Bayern Munich was a tale of two goalkeepers. In the Arsenal goal, Petr Cech was solidity personified, keeping out efforts from Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller as Bayern dominated possession but could not find a breakthrough.
Manuel Neuer gave a similar account in the first half at least, as his save from Theo Walcott's point-blank header seemed almost impossible to stop. The German was at full stretch, showed the strength of his wrist to keep the ball out and the presence of mind to parry out it away from the danger-zone. If that was spectacular, he had a moment of madness later on. He needlessly rushed out to claim a free-kick, missed the ball entirely, and Olivier Giroud made contact to give Arsenal a deserved lead.
Bayern pushed for an equalizer but never really threatened: the outstanding Douglas Costa fired over the top and Lewandowski had one run on goal but Laurent Koscielny shepherded him out of a shooting position. In injury time, the dynamic Hector Bellerin broke down the right and crossed for Mesut Ozil to double the lead. Neuer could not repeat his heroics from the first half, with the ball judged to have crossed the line despite Neuer's diving attempt to keep it out.
Bayern is still atop of Group F, but Neuer's wobble has allowed Arsenal back into contention. The bad news for the Gunners is that Olympiakos scored a late winner in Zagreb and will be the favorite to win again on home soil. Arsenal is three points behind the Greek champion and travels to Athens on Matchday Six. It could prove to be decisive for the London side, but at least it has life after Tuesday's three-point haul.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Mourinho trolls Wenger but has his own problems
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was moaning again after Chelsea drew 0-0 at Dynamo Kiev. His complaint? That Chelsea should have had a penalty after Cesc Fabregas fell in the box. Former World Cup referee Howard Webb did not agree.
“It was not a clear and obvious penalty, so for him to say that is the reason for the result is extraordinary… and harsh,” Webb told BT Sport.
That was not the only issue. “The referee was weak and naïve,” Mourinho said. This was a clear reference to Wenger’s complaint against Premier League official Mike Dean, who he described as “weak and naïve” after sending off Gabriel and not Diego Costa in their league encounter last month.
Was this the right time and occasion to troll his nemesis, Arsene Wenger, who incidentally was enjoying a victory against Europe’s best side at the same time?
His comments will certainly take attention away from another unconvincing Chelsea performance, even if it hit the woodwork twice, with Eden Hazard and Willian coming close.
Mourinho may yet end up punished as well: it was the FA who overlooked Wenger’s comments and yet sanctioned Mourinho for saying “referees are afraid to give decisions to Chelsea.” But this is a UEFA competition and it may look dimly on his words.
This result is not ideal for the Blues, especially as Porto beat Maccabi Tel Aviv. Mourinho’s former side is three points ahead of his current one with three games left. If Porto gets maximum points from its next two games against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Dynamo Kiev, it will travel to Stamford Bridge on Matchday Six in position to maintain top spot. That could happen, which might leave Chelsea second in the group, and facing a possible Round of 16 tie against the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid. Before then, Mourinho might have some explaining to do.